Erik Bedard and his 5.01 ERA were set free today by the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mariners fans likely have mixed feelings about his potential contribution to the M’s again. Though his time spent in Seattle was riddled with injury, his final statistical tally went like this: 255.33 IP, 8.8 K/9, 3.56 BB/9, 3.31 ERA, 3.85 FIP. Those were good numbers a few years ago when the run scoring environment was higher, and SafeCo wasn’t quite the run depressor it has proven to be this season. Bedard has managed 125.67 innings already this season with a 4.07 FIP, but more importantly without any significant injury. While he is well suited for SafeCo where he has had success in the past, the Mariners should be cautious about pursuing bedard in free agency. And here’s why.
Bedard’s ERA this seasons stands at 5.01, a full run higher than his FIP. Often, this is the result of some misfortune, but there are reasons to believe that Bedard has lost the “skill” to outperform his FIP as he did in Seattle—reasons beyond an awesome home ballpark.
For starters, PNC park in Pittsburgh is itself a pitcher’s haven, at least, for southpaws like Bedard. Lefty pitchers face right-handed batters a vast majority of the time, and just like SafeCo, PNC Park depresses run scoring to right-handed batters with a HR rating of 71 and a run-scoring rating of 93 (where 100 is average). For reference, SafeCo sits at 66 and 80, respectively. SafeCo is still more helpful for Bedard, but it’s not like he went off to Arlington or Denver. Yet his ERA still ballooned.
The driving forces behind his ERA spike this season have been a career-low 66.5% strand rate and a .314 BABIP (.270 during his time in Seattle). But before we rush off and blame defense, bad luck, bad timing or other things outside his control, there are a few important changes to note. Bedard is 33 years old, and his fastballs are losing velocity. After he missed all of 2010, Bedard came back in 2011 with one less mile per hour on his fastball. This season he’s dropped more than another full mile per hour.
Though the splits aren’t available for pitch velocity, he very well may have lost even more umph out of the stretch where his BABIP has risen to .331 and .323 over the past two seasons. This could easily lead to decreased strand rates. In the past I might have discounted the BABIP increases—both overall and with men on base—as random variation ready to regress back down to the mean. But with trustworthy pitch f/x data showing us that his fastball is losing steam, he might simply be more hittable. With high walk and strikeout rates throughout his career, Bedard is not much of a pitch-to-contact type guy, and this drop in fastball velocity could render him below average, as he has been this season.
If the M’s could get Bedard on a team-friendly contract—say one year at $3-4M—then it might be worth the risk. But age and injury have already begun taking their toll, and Bedard will likely never again be the guy that could keep his ERA well below 4.00, or even 4.50, without some luck.